I watched a movie this weekend that was so powerful I watched it again the next day to take notes. It’s called Women Talking. It’s based on a book by the same title by Miriam Toews, a true story about a community of Mennonite women and children who were sexually abused over a period of years. Their male leaders told them it didn’t happen. It was in their imagination. Some of these girls and women were injured or turned up pregnant. Then the narrative changed. The perpetrators were now labeled ghosts and demons. Until one of the child victims saw her abuser, a member of their clan. He named others.
Hundreds of women and girls were victims. Their story is told in this movie – but the story does not focus on the horrors of their abuse, as horrific as it was. Rather, it’s about their conversation regarding what to do about it. Should they stay and do nothing? Should they stay and fight? Should they all leave the community?
What I loved about this movie was watching the conversation among these women unfold. How did they process their different perspectives? Their values? Their faith? Their emotions? How did they affirm and support one another even when they disagreed and wanted different outcomes? As you watch it, notice how the conversation begins to shift from what they didn’t want – they didn’t want any more abuse, they didn’t want to be gaslit, or told it wasn’t true, to asking themselves what they did want. Safety. Freedom. Access to education. An equal voice in decision-making in their community. To think for themselves.
Pay attention to how they wrestled with their Christian faith and their most precious values to make one of the most important decisions in their lives. And how the wisdom of the group, led to that decision together.
After you watch it, I would love to have a conversation about your takeaways in our blog comments. We can learn from one another just like these women did if we’re open to having curious and respectful conversations about what matters most.
Today’s Question: I've been reading through your book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. Last night I read through chapter 11, “When there is no obvious change.” My question is regarding the section on Staying Well. What if I've done all those things over a long period of time that you mention is necessary to stay well, following the example of Abigail, and my husband is making it impossible to stay peaceful by constantly threatening me and giving punishments for standing up for myself all while living with joy and not expecting anything from him.
He often brings up that “God hates divorce” and tells me how sinful I am to think about separation, but he is purposefully making it miserable to stay. I know he is unhappy that I have chosen to stop emotionally investing in a relationship that is so broken, grieved my loss, and moved on to the parts of my life that I can be responsible for my own attitudes and actions. I was wondering if you had a resource that specifically addresses this question of how to stay well when your husband constantly inflicts harm. At this point, I do not want to leave and create a broken home environment for my remaining children at home, but it almost seems impossible to stay under these conditions.
Answer: First, kudos to you for doing your own work. To steward your life, taking responsibility for your own actions and attitudes and detaching from feeling responsible to change or fix him.
At this point in time, you may have to make a different choice. It may not be possible to stay well. God calls us where possible to live in peace. (Hebrews 12:14). Paul tells us as much as it depends on us, be at peace with people. (Romans 12:18). Why is this important? Because constant turmoil, uncertainty, bullying, and conflict with someone who is close in our life impacts our bodies, spirits, and souls. It has long-term negative consequences. The book of Proverbs repeatedly warns us of this.
Personally, I don’t believe it’s possible to stay well when someone continues to inflict harm on you. It’s commendable that you’d like to give your remaining children the stability of their home environment. You don’t want them to experience a broken home. But reality says they are already living in a broken home. They are not blind to what’s going on. You didn’t mention your husband’s relationship with his children but don’t minimize the impact of his control, criticism, and contempt towards you on them. Your children are negatively impacted by what’s going on at home. Have you talked with them about this?
As Christians, we have been taught that divorce is the worst possible outcome. But is that true? Does God hate all divorce? Actually, that verse in Malachi doesn’t translate God hates divorce. It says God hates when a man divorces his wife and treats her treacherously. That’s a very different kind of hate. It was only when the King James Bible was printed, did the Malachi passage read “God hates divorce.” Yet we know that in the OT that God allowed divorce as an option when all other options for a safe home environment were exhausted. Jesus said, “Because of the hardness of people’s hearts God permitted divorce”. (Matthew 19:8). I believe the worst possible outcome is for your children to think what’s happening is a normal, acceptable way for a husband to treat his wife. For their health to be impacted by the stress. For your health to be compromised by the stress of living in constant criticism and contempt.
Your children need at least one healthy parent. Again, good for you for doing your work to get as healthy as you can. But healthy people do not sacrifice the best of who they are to enable the worst in someone else to continue to cause harm. This is not a noble sacrifice, nor one that God asks us to make just to stay legally married.
I don’t know enough details of your current health status or your children’s well-being, but I would pay attention and ask questions. I remember talking with a mom of 5 who was trying her best to stay well. Her husband hadn’t changed and the pressure on her was great. She thought her kids were better off staying in the home, but their annual school physical said differently. All five of her children from 6 years old to 16 years old had high blood pressure. That jolted her awake and she decided it was time to leave.
Thank you for inviting a collective conversation around this topic. How long do you stay especially when your husband is escalating his verbal aggression towards you? Perhaps one more question to ask yourself is there any good coming from your sacrifice to stay? Any good for you? Any good for your kids? Any good for your spouse? Or is it only enabling the destruction to grow?
Friend, please join us in a conversation about her question, Can She Continue to Stay Well? And, if you watched the movie, Women Talking, what was your biggest “ah ha” moment or takeaway from the film?
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